Very soon, on what is likely to be a cloudy day, storefronts across Portland's plucky northernmost suburb will be front and center for one of America's newest and nuttiest experiments. The question on some minds: Can marijuana use occur without humans devolving into rage-fueled cannibalism? The question on everyone else's: Why did it take so long?
Of course, we Oregonians will be adjacent to the action, heads bowed in silent shame as Washington passes a glittery glass piece from Ilwaco to Colville.
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana, but this time those Appleheads out-pioneered us, and out-pioneered us good. Which makes it a little odd that, for the first time in its 40-year history, Willamette Week is rolling out a marijuana column. (This is that column.) Why not wait until marijuana is legal in, say, Portland proper?
Weed will be legally and openly sold a short drive away in only a few weeks. And we won't have long to wait before it's permitted here, too. A new legalization measure will almost certainly be on next year's ballot, and there's hint of the Oregon Legislature going no-huddle and passing a law earlier. Washington's approval of Initiative 502 conjures images of hangdog Oregonians trudging north for supplies in much the way our forefathers relied on Fort Vancouver for huggable beaver pelts. We'll be paying weed taxes to Sounders fans, and paying their regressive sales tax on Juanita's Chilipeño chips because it's just so far back across the river and I'm hungry now, damn it. And you know how much of that tax revenue will go toward building a bridge with light rail across the Columbia? Zero-point-zero percent.
Oregon's growers and purveyors aren't worried about mass exodus, though. Lax residency laws allow many to supply Washington dispensaries and benefit from the new laws anyway, and a hefty tax on recreational purchases probably won't attract Portlanders with medical licenses or established connections. And have you tried crossing into Washington lately during rush hour? It's a waking night terror.
Mainly, this I-502 thing is a blow to Oregon's trailblazing ego. But our hesitance is not without advantages. First, we can learn from Washington and Colorado missteps and build a better, more Oregonian system. Also, we grow some of the nation's best product. It seems esoteric until you consider the numbers. Right now, cannabis is estimated as the fastest-growing market in the United States. Faster than smartphones. Faster than goat meat. Faster than capri pants! Marijuana is currently Oregon's fourth-largest cash crop, and one major grower assured me it could easily become No. 1. Many people who've been growing and selling for decades now face a drastic market change. The Willamette Valley's revered climate and reputation for cannabis-growing talent make it a natural center for the burgeoning industry. We'll get ours, is what I'm saying.
There is no precedent for the cultural shift that will occur once cannabis becomes legal across the West Coast in the next few years. The most commonly cited analogies are (A) the present legalization of marijuana in countries around the world, like the Netherlands, which breaks down because Americans are generally not as cool as the Dutch, and (2) the end of Prohibition, which doesn't jibe since liquor had been legal just 14 years earlier and, as we'll discuss in future installments, cannabis is not alcohol.
As weed slips into the mainstream, there will be resistance. Drug companies and traditional vice purveyors like Philip Morris will defend their interests or buy up what they can't control. There are family members to convince. There's a Bible Belt to deal with. And then, of course, there are stoners themselves, who have long been their own worst enemy in the quest to legalize. There's no way around the fact weed culture is weird. Pothead sensibilities are etched into the national landscape like 4:20 carvings on a school desk. The stereotypes aren't usually positive—would Oregon brewers pick Andy Capp as a spokesman? Weed culture may be full of eccentric lingo and strain titles like Chemdawg and Alaskan Thunderfuck, but it's cheeb-sniffers who kept weed alive, sustaining the gift of cannabis under penalty of imprisonment.
Basically, this column exists to chronicle the first official forays into a massive cultural upheaval, and provide an entry-level tour of a subculture that has been swelling from America's fringes for decades. In the not-so-distant future, strains like Jack Herer and Northern Lights will be as ubiquitous as imperial stouts and farmhouse ales. Our music will sound sweeter. Our food will taste better. Our nine months of gray will be far more bearable. And we'll once again be able to give those Appleheads a good ribbing.
WILLIE WEED: Wm. Willard Greene writes a column about marijuana for Willamette Week—oh, not necessarily every week, but when there's a worthy topic.